Illinois prisons on COVID lockdown as cases soar among inmates

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Illinois prisons on COVID lockdown as cases soar
At one Illinois prison, more than 40% of the inmate population tested COVID positive Monday, the I-Team has learned.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois' most-hardened criminals are no match for COVID-19 as the virus is infecting inmates in several state prisons at a startling pace. At one state prison on Monday more than 40% of the inmate population tested COVID positive, the I-Team has learned.

Western Illinois Correctional Center, a medium-security prison in Mt. Sterling, currently reports 600 prisoners infected with COVID. The correctional facility has 1,452 inmates, and so the percentage of prisoners who currently have COVID is approaching at 41%.

The Illinois statewide test positivity rate for COVID on Monday was 15.2%.

One Western inmate who is currently positive for COVID is Robert Green, 54, an inmate from Chicago's South Side who has been imprisoned nearly 26 years for murder and armed robbery.

Green's mother and other family members tell the I-Team they are angry that state prison officials have let the COVID outbreak reach such high levels.

RELATED: Illinois Department of Corrections halts county transfers after COVID-19 outbreaks

Mary Thompson said her son had been given a towel and two squirts of disinfectant to sanitize his entire cell, and that it wasn't enough to prevent him from getting the virus last week. Thompson said Green also has asthma and is particularly vulnerable to COVID complications.

"Very, very sick," she said. "He's sick from the COVID and from asthma and they're not doing anything to help him."

She said, even though he is a prisoner, he is still human and shouldn't be treated inhumanely.

"Not caring that these inmates have COVID; not caring that they need to be able to sanitize their space; they need to be treated like human beings," she said.

Western is on COVID lockdown, with no outside visitors permitted to see their loved ones who are locked up. The facility is among 34 statewide currently listed as being on full lockdown because of COVID.

Western is a close second to state-leading Menard Correctional Center in the number of current COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, 605 prisoners at maximum-security Menard are infected with COVID. That is more than a third of the entire inmate population at Menard Correctional Center, located on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis. Eighty-four Menard staff members are also sick right now with COVID.

RELATED: Supply chain disruptions leave shelves bare in some Illinois state prison commissaries

Illinois Department of Corrections officials did not immediately respond to I-Team messages.

The third sickest facility statewide is Pontiac Correctional Center south of Chicago. Pontiac has 374 inmates now infected along with 129 currently ill staff members, the highest number of employees infected in the system.

Thompson said her greatest fear is that COVID will result in a death sentence for her son, who has a 2037 parole date but is fighting for an earlier release.

"If they don't do better about getting him some medication and sanitizing the facility, I might lose my child," she told the I-Team. "That's my only child."